Sports Media

Berenguer is out of the mix

NESN pulls him from ‘Daily’ duty

No chemistry
By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / November 12, 2010

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Speaking about “NESN Daily’’ in the days leading up to its August debut, network executive vice president of programming Joel Feld often cited a crucial element for the show to be a success: chemistry between its cohosts, Jade McCarthy and Uri Berenguer.

After barely three months on the air, that chemistry experiment has come to an abrupt end.

Feld confirmed yesterday that Berenguer will no longer serve as a “NESN Daily’’ cohost. His final show alongside McCarthy aired last night.

McCarthy will host the show solo beginning Tuesday, already a big day for NESN since it marks the debut of the “Dennis and Callahan Show’’ simulcast with WEEI.

The decision to relieve Berenguer comes as no surprise. The viewer reaction to “NESN Daily,’’ per feedback in this inbox and supported by dismal Nielsen ratings, has been strikingly negative.

Something had to change.

“It’s definitely fair to say the chemistry just didn’t work,’’ said Feld. “That happens in television. I don’t think that’s an indication of either one of their talent. It’s just an indication that, together, it didn’t work.’’

Berenguer, who did not respond to requests for comment, remains under contract and will serve as a reporter and contributor to “NESN Daily’’ and “Red Sox Hot Stove Live.’’

McCarthy, a Newton native, was hired in September 2009 from WCAU in Philadelphia. She debuted on NESN in January and was a natural choice as a cohost when the network decided to change the format of its highlights program “SportsDesk’’ to the issues-oriented “NESN Daily.’’

But NESN executives had a challenging and prolonged search for the male cohost, never finding the right fit for reasons not always related to on-air compatibility with McCarthy.

While Berenguer was well-known to listeners of Red Sox broadcasts on the Spanish Radio Network, having served as the play-by-play voice since 2003, he was nonetheless a curious choice for “NESN Daily.’’

Hired in July, he was a relative novice to television, and any spark NESN might have seen during rehearsals did not translate when the cameras were on. His attempts at banter with McCarthy usually fell between banal and awkward, though his enthusiasm always seemed genuine.

“I think you have to keep in mind that this was Uri’s first television opportunity in a leading role,’’ said Feld. “I think he’s got an enormous amount of talent. Our job is to match his talents and abilities to fit our needs.’’

Feld, who emphasized that NESN is “completely committed’’ to the program, said it wouldn’t be accurate to say NESN “settled’’ for Berenguer after its frustrating talent search.

“I don’t think that really factored into the decision,’’ he said. “We wouldn’t have launched the show when we did if we didn’t believe that we had found the right duo for that time.’’

It is not out of the question that another cohost could join McCarthy, but Feld said NESN is content to go solo for now.

“It’s too early to answer,’’ he said. “But we think that Jade’s the right person for the show.

“What we’ve looked to do from the beginning is add more discussion and conversation and be less highlights-driven. We still want that.

“But a show is a process. And sometimes that means some things change, and some don’t, when you’re trying to get that show to be what you want it to be.’’

Finally thrown out
Believe it or not, there are some people who enjoyed hearing Joe Morgan’s perspective on a baseball game through the years. Skeptical, cynical reader? Well, here’s a short list:

■ ESPN decision-makers, who liked the Hall of Fame second baseman enough as “Sunday Night Baseball’’ color analyst to retain him for 21 years, since the telecast’s debut in 1990.

■ Morgan’s former Cincinnati teammates must have appreciated his work, for no other reason than knowing they could always expect a shoehorned Big Red Machine reminiscence or 10 during a broadcast.

■ And don’t forget Sports Emmy voters, who bestowed Morgan with their statuette not once, but twice, thus sparing him the there-must-be-some-mistake-here suspicion reminiscent of Marisa Tomei’s 1993 supporting actress Oscar.

And, well, that about does it. Otherwise, there seemed to be a universal reaction among fans and media regarding the announcement that ESPN would not renew Morgan’s contract:

Hallelujah. And what took so long?

The Morgan criticism may seem like hyperbole; it is not. His approach boiled down to this: He was a two-time Most Valuable Player who won two championships with the Reds, and his stature was indisputable evidence to him that he knew more than just about anyone else.

His experience trumped preparation, open-mindedness, and even the most rudimentary statistical analysis, because, you know, a calculator didn’t play second base for the 1975 Reds.

Morgan was a master at stubbornly sticking to his talking point — or falling silent — even as something on the screen proved him wrong.

I’ll never forget the look of puzzlement on Terry Francona’s face when Morgan asked him during one of those insipid in-game interviews why Jason Varitek wasn’t catching Tim Wakefield. The average Red Sox fan knows why. Shouldn’t one of the nation’s most prominent baseball broadcasters?

It is likely that Dan Shulman, a true pro who has an extensive baseball background at ESPN but is most often heard as the play-by-play voice on its No. 1 NBA team, will replace Miller. It’s less apparent who will replace Morgan, though Orel Hershiser is believed to be the front-runner, with Bobby Valentine a possibility to be third man in the booth.

Both would be fine choices. But even if they weren’t, there’s no doubt they would be an upgrade, even if neither played for the 1975 Reds.